Device Addiction and FoMO

Take Back Your Time

Something happened to me recently that had never happened before. I needed a nap, so I started towards the couch. Sure, I arranged the pillows and did inventory on the available blankets. And yeah, I had my nap poodle with me. She’s always ready for a nap.

But wait, what was this? My cell phone? My Kindle? What? WHY??

I had a few minutes of discomfort as I tried to pry my own phone from my own hand. And the Kindle, really, that was too much. I felt like I was in first grade again and had to put down the little toy animals I had bonded with during recess. I had to think- and feel- my way through my surprising dilemma. Was this what people were talking about? How had it happened to me, one who is often referred to as a Luddite? And WOW, that was quick. I had only owned my smartphone for a couple months.

So what did happen? I thought this was the thing: I had texted a couple people and was waiting for their response on issues that honestly weren’t terribly time sensitive. I felt I had to keep in touch. Well here was the real deal: I had become far too dependent on technology to be able to be comfortable with myself, by myself, and during a nap.

I made myself put down the devices on the desk and went to the couch, arranged the blankets, called the nap poodle to me, and for maybe one minute I fretted. Then I was asleep. Because that nap was necessary. Texting was not.

This isn’t my first foray into technological dependency. Facebook and Farmville taught me that lesson long ago. Remember Farmville? Oy, did that run too much of my real life at one time.

I timed myself recently on Facebook. How long would it take me to get through all the new posts? It took me about an hour and forty-five minutes. I unfriended about ten people, unfollowed another twenty or so, and have taken up the practice of scanning the posts. I focus on family first, then a couple communities I follow, and then jokes, animals, and whatnot. I have maybe 80 friends on there, as FB likes to remind me in some sort of disapproving nanny tone. I can’t imagine 500. I hope people are practicing boundaries.

So ever since I tried to take my phone to nap for a half hour because, you know, I might miss out, I’ve read some articles (online of course) and had some interesting discussions with family and friends. IRL, ya know.

Here are a few articles I kept for this post:

FoMO, also known as Fear of Missing Out

Smartphone Addiction

E-tox Today

I want to pause here and mention the importance of sleep. Sleep is as essential to our brains as water. Don’t even argue. Don’t tell me your life doesn’t allow enough sleep. That’s absolutely true for many people, and it’s something many more people can do much more about. Judge your own life, I got mine to deal with.

The fact is, we have an addictive culture around us already. My state has a liquor control board, a gambling commission, and some sort of state response team to the growing heroin crisis. Which I consider a crisis, not an epidemic. Our advertising tells us that such-n-such product is ‘crazy addictive’ as if that were a good thing. Our friends crow about how they must have their [fill in the blank] or they’ll die. Heck, I’ve said that about chocolate, and I probably will again. People want , they crave, and then they think they need. It gets us into all sorts of trouble, from wasting our health to wrecking our credit scores to breaking up families.

And honestly, how is our government going to ever give up its massive dependency upon addictions and vice? Our government may be in the business of promoting addictive behaviors because it brings in revenue. Think about that the next time someone mentions the cigarette tax, which nobody does. But it’s there, along with other taxes that are supposed to regulate our addictive behaviors…for the common coffers.

But enough of that.

How’d I get from FoMO to all that? Because any mental health issue needs its soil to grow in. A healthy perception of one’s body doesn’t just happen, it needs nurtured and trained and supported. Anorexia needs a different kind of soil, whether it is a mother’s obsession hurting her daughter, dependence upon media funhouse mirror reflections, or a complex chemical imbalance in the girl’s mind. So while we each and collectively adjust to the accelerating growth of technology in personal and public life, let’s just stop and take a breath once in awhile. Anyone who tells you that you must have it, and now, is trying to stop you from thinking. They only want to drive your behavior into knee jerk reactions. The kind that make them money.

So look into those articles above, especially the last one about doing e-tox for yourself. Accept that it will be uncomfortable, accept that you may have stewardship over children who need your guidance, and accept that there is hope. If you’re older than the internet, then you once had a different kind of life, and you can build on the good aspects of that in healthy ways for a new and better life today. If you’ve grown up with the internet, then maybe you have some gut level experiences that prepared you in ways we older folks don’t have. Maybe you have problems as well. Maybe you don’t even think it’s a problem. Just step away from your devices and check your initial response when you do. That will tell you what you need to know.

This is like a tunnel. The tunnel can turn into an endless blind cave of doom depending on how we approach the situation. It can also turn into a passageway through huge masses of heavy burdens, and as we strive to get through we start to see the light at the other end of the tunnel. Eventually we are through it and standing on the other side. That’s when we see that this tunnel was only one part of our amazing journey. That’s the message all recovering addicts can share: that you can get through, that there is an end to this, that there is another side, over there, beyond this thing that’s got our attention in its grip.

Finally, keeping it real here:

Yesterday I tried to nap. My phone blipped. I suddenly realized who it was, what it was about, and how time sensitive the communication was. I got up and got my phone, and lay down again, sending a text. Making a long story short: by the end of my half hour I had communicated with two separate people about the issue at hand, running maybe twenty texts and then going to phone call because one of them ran out of texts. I gave up on napping and started washing dishes and had to dry my hands and go answer the land line a couple times as well. Two phones, three people, dozens of texts: not a true and working definition of a nap.

My life is a work in progress.

Those links again:

FoMO

Smartphones

E-tox

Take Back Your Time

 

 

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Modern Lessons from Ancient Lit

My guest post this week is offered by Aesop, that most ancient and underappreciated of wise men. Having spent much of his life as a slave, encountering many layers of repulsion due to his apparently ugly appearance and some form of disability, Aesop went on to prove time after time just how quick witted he was, how keen to observe, and how cunning to act. His fables stand the test of thousands of years, which I doubt will ever be said of many modern award winning publications. But then, when I think of it, how many popular, socially acceptable, government sanctioned ancient writings do we have today? How many have just gone the way of all the dust of time?

Enough. To Aesop!

“As a Wolf was lapping at the Head of a Fountain, he spy’d a Lamb paddling at the same time a good way off down the Stream. The Wolf had no sooner the Prey in his eye, but away he runs open-mouthed to’t.

Villain (says he) how dare you lie muddling the Water that I’m drinking?

Indeed, says the poor Lamb, I did not think that my drinking here below could have foul’d your Water so far above.

Nay, says t’other, you’ll never leave your chopping of Logick, till your Skin’s turn’d over your ears, as your Father’s was, a matter of six Months ago, for prating at this saucy rate; you remember it full well, Sirrah.

If you’ll believe me, Sir, (quoth the innocent Lamb, with fear and trembling) I was not come into the World then.

Why thou Impudence, cries the Wolf, hast thou neither Shame nor Conscience? but it runs in the Blood of your whole Race, Sirrah, to hate our Family; and therefore since Fortune has brought us together so conveniently, you shall e’en pay some of your Forefathers Scores before you and I part.

And so without any more ado, he leap’d at the Throat of the miserable helpless Lamb, and tore him immediately to pieces.”

Now gentle readers, what lessons can be learned here? Enter your answers below!

 

(excerpt taken from Aesop Fables Children Classics, Alfred A. Knopf, New York)

Can We Tolerate Clean Reads?

I’ve been an active member of Goodreads for several years now. I find it helpful for tracking books and finding more books and talking books and meeting book reading book lovers. Recently as I indulged my love of book reviews (both there and on Amazon), I have begun to sense a trend which I hope gets swallowed up in some other better trend. Not a worse trend, oh dear heavens, we don’t need anymore of those! It’s as if these days some sort of Bulk Discount Bin of Worse Trends had been upended over the continental United States!

The scenario is this: a new book comes out, or people rediscover an older book. The author may be heavily involved promoting it. Readers are enjoying discussing it. Then someone asks, quite innocently, “Is the book clean?” The author herself, and several other people who suddenly revert to their Mr. Edward Hyde personas, jump all over the very idea. They make fun of the questioner’s ‘purity’, calling such questions sheer vanity, useless, censorship, outdated, outrageous, not worthy of a response, that entire family deserves horrible Medieval ends, and much, much worse.

What is the word for the overreaction of a system to an otherwise perfectly normal and harmless irritant? An allergy attack? Antihistamine overdrive? Anaphylactic shock? Aren’t we trying to cure that sort of thing?

Because the question, while vague, has its purposes. There are growing numbers of people who acknowledge that much of our mainstream culture is slithering happily into the sewers of the world, and they don’t want to go with it. They may want to shield children. They may have sensitive history that makes them want to avoid sexual assault scenes in their reading. They may want to read about real problem solving and hopeful perspectives rather than gratuitous violence and nihilism. And why not? If a history museum fan wants to read about history, why not? I could even argue, with a bad taste in my mouth, that if a reader of gore and mayhem wants that, they need to be able to make their choice. But I ask this: if the history fan starts talking history, that’s not nearly the issue of a gore fan wanting to talk gore. And believe me, they often do. It works into every conversation. Ever have someone who wouldn’t shut up about the ‘Saw’ movies while at a picnic? Yeah. So why interfere with someone who is looking for ‘clean reads’? What’s this about choice? What did you just say about tolerance? Ok then.

The term ‘clean reads’ is vague, yes. It means various levels of clean to various people. It might mean absolutely no reference to sexual scenes, or it may mean a fade-to-black kind of approach to sex scenes. It may allow for a few of the milder swear words, or it may not. It may want to avoid the everything-is-the-same-so-nothing-really-matters philosophy that infuses so much literature with a kind of pre-soviet psychological grooming that leads to State control of culture and thought. But is it so hard to just ask: “What do you mean by ‘clean’?”

Can we suspend rash judgement anymore? Can we ask for clarification? Can we discuss?

The defensive maneuvers of those who cry- or shriek- censorship reminds me of Shakespeare: “Methinks he doth protest too much”. Censorship? Where were the cries of censorship when the publishers demanded changes? Where were the cries of outdated when the book refers to older literature forms? Why this pretense at moral superiority while trying to skewer the morality of another? Hypocrite much?

Thankfully, when I see these attacks, I am also seeing more and more responses of other bystanders who step forward and defend the simple question. Most simply see clean choices as that- choices. We all must discriminate or we would be required by circumstances to read all books in the world. Really! Just think about it: you have no choice. You can not pick one book over another. You must read them ALL.

Or: you must read the ones we demand you read. You are especially not allowed to read those ones over there.

Both are pretty ridiculous. One has been attempted at various times throughout the history of the world. (Hint: it’s the second one)

Why does this mean anything to me? because I have my own set of standards (LIKE EVERY OTHER READER) and mine happen to lean towards ‘clean’. How I define it can shift as I change as a person, because no one is still reading the books they read in first grade, or college, and only those. We all change. Nevertheless, my tendency towards ‘clean’ has stayed roughly about the same. Why do I choose that? Here’s why:

  1. I’m so tired of the sex scenes. They feel like this: the author is getting off on their own writing, and making me a voyeur; the spread of pornography with its attendant addiction, abuse, and cultural decline means we should be preventing it, not spreading it like verbal plague; and after avearge sex scenes become inadequate for an author, their readers, or their publishers, just how far are we going to go into the mire for that next fleeting jaded arousal? Or is that just a repeat of the addiction argument?
  2. I’m tired of the gore. So much of it feels, well, canned. Like extra juicy spam. You open it, it slops out, and you say, “Oh, cool! Gimme more!” Like movies that have jettisoned story for CGI gimmicks, many books have lost story for the sake of look-at-my-anatomy-research. It falls in a camp very close to just plain look-at-my-anatomy.
  3. The despair and intensity have become comical. Intense story telling that grabs you with the first paragraph and then demands your attention is an insecure kind of verbal assault. Not only does it get far too manipulative, but it’s like the guy who grabs your shirt as you try to end a conversation and he gets so in your face that you feel his spit on your cheek. He’s like “You see?? You know what I mean? Anyone who thinks differently is an idiot!!” And you just want to go have a life with not-this-man in it. Or at least, let-him-keep-some-distance.
  4. I think we’ve lost something when we lose the setting and descriptive abilities of past generations of writers. Plot heavy is more an aesthetic taste, but it often comes entangled in gore and explicit scenes of all types because so many of our generation have grown up with TV…or less than TV…I’m looking at you, video games. What if I find your ability to describe a woman’s anatomy a misplaced description when I have vague ideas of your setting?

Admittedly, that last point is not so much a moral point but it is affected by the others. So while I avoid certain kinds of books, I know everyone else avoid other kinds. I know there are books I think everyone should read, but I’m not going to get their cooperation with social pressure that involves humiliation, threats, and grotesqueries of verbal outrage. That’s not how I operate, anyway.

When people yell “JUST READ THE %^&$ BOOK!!” I wonder if they would also scream at me to “Just eat the cowpie we pried up out of this farmyard tire rut!” Because not all reading is the same, not all books have the same value, and actually, yes, what I read really needs to be as clean as the food that goes into my body. It needs to be good and clean, as wholesome as possible, and something my mind can use to build good thinking skills, healthy mind sets, and a hopefully long life of happiness and appreciation of beauty.

That doesn’t mean we never use our writing skills to address dark issues within our human experience, no, of course not. We can write about anything and still retain our humanity. Otherwise we risk descending to the level of predators or pushers who demand government support for their attempts to groom others into their hideous world. No thanks.

Not all books are the same. I repeat that. We’re not talking binary data streams here, we are talking the thoughts that influence actions which shape the character that builds or destroys civilizations. Yeah, many of those thoughts come from books. Read a book and just try not to think about it. I dare ya!

Released Again

I looked back and saw that it’s only been a little over a year since my last blog post. It’s probably the wildest excuse in the world, but like last time, things have been a blur and I can only surmise that the aliens have taken me yet again. I seem to have lost some weight, so yeah.

Image result for free clip art aliens

The fact is, I’ve been caught up in other parts of life. The parts that are just for me, like this blog, or sleep, or a chocolate bar, tend to get shuffled aside. It’s often necessary, and other times it’s often just wrong. Most of the time there is something I could have done to prevent it. In other matters, well, sometimes you just have to swallow yourself and take care of the needs around you. It’s the right thing to do.

So, wow, to catch up: among the many dramas of the last wearying year I have picked up work writing as a ghost. I can’t help it, I’ve always wanted to say that. “I’m a ghost!” Which means two things: 1- I am making money, and 2- I am less able to do other writing. Fortunately, I have found a little bit of balance and am now trying to do both.

That balance is difficult. It’s not so much that I am standing in the center of a see saw keeping it from swaying down on either side. It’s more like I am juggling and all the balls are actually staying in the air at the moment, while the ones in my hands are still going upwards rather than downwards. There’s a sense of motion, and perhaps a fear that things may change at any minute. Also the determination to recognize the good in what I do rather than focus like an electron microscope on the fact that one ball has a slight deformity to it or that the arc those balls follow does not represent a truly wonderous and beauteous circle.

Image result for free clip woman juggling

So much has changed in the world in one year. President Trump is turning things upside down yet again because hey, that’s apparently what presidents do. I take some comfort in the possible fact that some of what he does seems to support me rather than tear me down, and the sense of relief is a very strange and long lost sensation to experience.

The culturally intolerant are turning their flying monkeys loose as well, demanding acceptance and coerced celebration of their choices while trying to grind all other choices into the muck they have left behind after their shout-a-thons.

I became a caregiver to my elderly mother-in-law for a few months while she recovered from an accident. Still absorbing those lessons, though I can say this much: it was a blessing. Maybe it was a blessing I resented sometimes, and maybe I’m still recovering from such a blessing. But something ran deep through the experience for all of us in the family. Many times I found myself reflecting on the Children of Israel in the Old Testament, and learning more and more just how deeply and amazingly human they really were. They probably didn’t know whether to laugh or cry sometimes, just like me.

Finally, I look forward to my blog, a place where I can talk to myself and if people want to drop by and say something constructive, then hey, welcome and come again! I love having a good gab.

https://img.clipartfest.com/1fa15fcf5e73b892b909dc90189ec9b8_pin-classroom-clipart-woman-on-clipart-drinking-tea_550-492.jpeg

Sources of image: http://www.classroomclipart.com

Multitasking

The Ups and Downs of Juggling Several Things At Once, and the Key to Success

I remember, years ago, the first time I heard the word ‘multitasking’. I thought something along these lines: “Wow, those corporate types will think up anything!” If memory serves me (and it doesn’t), I was carrying a baby in a sling while folding laundry, listening for the washer to end so I could switch wet clothes to the dryer, letting the dog out, soaking dishes, letting dough rise, letting the dog in, and avoiding the phone. Multitasking sounded like a new corporate thang, shiny, vague, but obviously evolved for efficiency in a serious boardroom environment. It took me an hour to realize that all that these suits were actually doing was being a Mom.
Multitasking is nothing more than doing several tasks at once to improve output and results. People have been doing it for as long as there have been people…especially little people: the wee one who calls you from one room while another clings to your shirt and another sulks in a loud cloud of silence because he wants your help but he’s too hurt to ask for it.
Now, this practice has its place. It can be very handy to get a bunch of things done within a two hour window so that your afternoon is freed up. However, I have discovered the downside to this and so I consider carefully before implementing Multitask Attainment Zone. It is this: I am sometimes so tired from running around like a chicken with its head cut off that I can’t possibly enjoy those free hours that come later. My back hurts, my arms ache, my head is tired of thinking about so many things at once, and all I want is a nap that I don’t want. So now I implement Multitask Aggregate Assessment Incentive with caution.
It is entirely useful and possible to have eight things going at once. Some of those might be things that can run themselves for a while, like a computer security scan and a clothes dryer. Others need closer attention, like serving a customer face-to-face or knowing what you just agreed to over the phone. Some can be interrupted, like a chapter in a book; some things can never be interrupted, like certain chapters in certain other books. There is probably a formula for how many things the average person can juggle at a time without making mistakes. I would expect that the number of mistakes would rise in proportion to the number of items being multitasked, but that never takes into account the amount of sleep a person had the night before, or the distraction of someone’s smothering perfume. Needless to say, it would become more difficult to juggle more things under greater stress loads. I suppose that means that when you think you are multitasking, say, six assignments, tasks, or chores, you are more likely also juggling the stress and pressure associated with the items as well as the juggling itself. Then there’s all the other stuff going on around you and inside your own head. It becomes ugly quickly. At least it does in that sometimes frenetic place just above my shoulders.
So when I have a to-do list, which is often, I sometimes plan part of my day to actively juggle several tasks at once. I don’t usually plan on multitasking throughout the entire day. I am a low key person. I only get up early in the mornings because I am cursed with Morning Person Personality. Don’t judge my day by how quickly it seems to get underway. That would be like judging the design of the Titanic by the way that champagne bottle broke against its hull.
I multitask, knowing that at any moment my efforts might get derailed by more important things. No matter how important my plans are, there is usually something more important than that. It might be the sudden need of a child or a friend. It might be a bizarre utility letter in the morning mail that requires an immediate follow up phone call while I still care about the travesty of their New Policy Implementation. At any rate, I multitask with an open mind: it may be interrupted, and it may not work even if everything goes smoothly. Then I make sure to schedule, as much as possible, a single-task series of activities. Because single tasking has its perks, as well.
It can be stimulating to take on several tasks at once, set them in motion, supervise their progress, and feel the satisfaction when they all end pretty well after all that effort. I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists: I make them, then I hate when something stays on the list all week, into next week, demanding my attention. Sometimes I give up and cross it off. Sometimes I make a new list and the (de)pressing issue goes to the top of the list for me to deal with when I am at the height of my curse of Morning Person Personality. It is really cool to cross off several items at once because I multitasked. So cool! Less to do! More book to read!
But as far as I am concerned this does nothing compared to the deep joy of a single task, fallen into, made blind because of, and deafened thereby. Sometimes, during single tasking, time stops and quite possibly ceases to exist. My mind is quiet; my body stilled; my spirit alive with concentration upon the experience I am given. These are precious times in life: a mother sits in no hurry with a child in her lap, reading with utmost relish to the child whose face lights up with imagination and the satisfaction of feeling loved. An artist spends a few pure, solid hours in sketching or writing or stitching. A book lover has fallen so deeply into a story that they can hear the fictional characters and not their own real world. This is what we cannot do when we multitask: we cannot be thoroughly lost in the immense concentration upon one thing that is only possible when we focus upon only one thing. Ask any Buddhist.
So I tend to save the afternoon, if possible, for the single task activities that take as much, if not more, effort than multitasking. This is because when I multitask, I am trying to use my morning energy as efficiently as possible to get as many things done as early in the day as I can because honestly, we never can know exactly what will happen in the next hour. A desperate phone call, smoke pouring from the dish washer, or a bout of sickness can derail a day. On the other hand, I hope that we can also set aside our plans when we see a sun dappled maple tree or notice the elderly neighbor struggling with their garbage can. These could be considered distractions, especially to the goal acquisitive mind frame, a.k.a. The Multitask Blunt Goal Trauma Committee. These moments might be saving graces, which we cannot afford to pass by in our ignorance. They may be reminders of beauty and impulse and serendipity and kindness in the moment. A single moment can carry the weight of a dozen goals achieved if we are in the right place at the right time and we recognize it for what it’s worth. A single moment can carry thousands of consequences that ripple through hours and years and individuals and communities.
Businesses (and homes) need clocks and spread sheets and goals. They have their place. They help maintain civilization, make money, save lives, and reduce chaos. Multitasking is not, by itself, a good thing in any situation. It is only a tool. It is used in situations that are entirely appropriate to save time and effort. It is also used in situations where it is inhumane and contributes only to the suffering in the world. Use multitasking (and single tasking) wisely.
Awareness is the key. To multitask a person needs to keep track of what tasks they are actually doing. To single task a person needs to recognize what is most important at the moment they are given, plunge in, and use their full focus. Each of us needs to develop a sense of when each skill is best applied, and how, as well as what the results might be. There is no guilt in awareness, but there is understanding. There is no fluster in awareness, only calmness in the moment. There is no pressure in awareness, only the sense of growth. With an awakening of awareness, any action we take carries better health within it in general. So when we multitask we can use it for best effectiveness rather than always for efficiency. When we single task, we can do it freely and enjoy what we are doing.
As a stay at home mom, I am grateful for the ability to be flexible, because family life is organic, fluid, and can turn instantaneously messy. I enjoy living in the moment I have, and I enjoy finding new ways to grow. I enjoy living in such a way that I am not a detriment to those around me, and I enjoy thinking about these things. I am a mom, and I don’t just multitask, I momercize. I recommend it for everyone, though they may want to change the name of it to Magnate Task Efficiency Correlation Paradigm Accrual. And no, I can’t make a pithy acronym to save my life.

Back Again

I don’t know what keeps happening. Perhaps I am repeatedly suffering from alien abduction and will one day realize the missing threads of time in my blog are evidence of extraterrestrial mind tampering. Perhaps I am simply juggling children, life, school, and now work, and so my blog suffers. These lapses in my blogging are, in fact, more probably a sign of a woman neglecting those things that matter ‘only to herself’ in favor of the many demands of others around her. This has to be done, sometimes. And sometimes I can turn my attention to such things as matter only to me, but which matter rather a great deal.

And so I am returned, mind less tampered with than initially suspected, and with a deeper sense of what I want- for myself- in this life. Clothing that fits, a good cup of herbal tea, playing my music out loud, a big fat biography about a favorite author…a place to write some of my thoughts. I have most of those. That’s pretty good.

Vive Le Norton’s Anthologies

First, let’s talk about libraries. My family went to the library recently and I discovered two things:
1- Books that showed on the library website as not available at the library were actually *right there* on the shelf, in front of me. I got two books from my list checked out that way.
2- I have revolving library strategies: first, look through the list I brought to the library. Find some of those to check out, if I can. Second, stroll about, wander, browse, and strum a few fingers over the spines to slow me down. My gaze landed on a series of books I hadn’t known were there: books about books, books about authors, and books about story telling. That was where I discovered the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature: the translations in English.
Norton is to anthologies as Asian is to elephant. These books are big, thick, wide, and full of memory. This is a 2005 edition, and since I have a couple Nortons at home, I was pretty interested in this one. In fact, since it was about children’s lit, I think I’m more interested in this one than in, say, The Norton Guide to Literature or The Norton Anthology of English Literature. This particular one has some great chapters in it. There’s a chapter on alphabet books through history, a chapter on primers, and even a chapter on comics, which surprised me.

Something else surprised me: a fair amount of opinion. I find it a relief to read a human opinion, particularly ones I tend to agree with. So many books (or other information sources like the media, etc.) have grand delusions of objectivity, which they absolutely fail at. Instead, they call what they write objective, and then react strongly to someone else who simply responds to the opinion held within their writing. And yes, there is a lot out there to have opinions about. And a lot out there where opinions don’t carry much weight. Anyway, here is a quote from Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature: the translations in English. Page 85, at the bottom, has these sentences:

“Today as demands for accountability dominate discussions of education and standardized testing is advocated at every level, the factory models of the early nineteenth century appear to be returning and are threatening to circumscribe our understanding of literacy. Literacy is again being defined narrowly as a skill rather than more complexly as the ability to gain access to a long literary tradition and to engage with a text’s interpretive possibilities.”

Below that I read an interesting passage that taught me about an incident I had not been aware of before. In 2003 a group of ninety British authors signed a petition protesting rampant state testing and stating “children’s understanding, empathy, imagination and creativity are developed best by reading whole books, not by doing comprehensive exercises and short excerpts and not by ticking boxes or giving one- word answers.”

Our public school is a CEO-run cyber school. It has a business model and runs on contract with the state. We want business models, because business models often work very well. A Business can make money and succeed in society. But education is neither just a business model nor a government program. If it must be one of those, I would choose the first, because then, as a consumer, I at least have some chance of being heard where the voice of the people in government is so much more sadly lacking. But business models don’t always work when we are growing children. We are not, I must emphasize, not building children. We raise them, like cows. We grow them, like fetal cells that become walking talking human beings. We train them like puppies and we interact with them like the each other that we are. A certain amount of testing and accountability is necessary. Measuring has its uses. But beyond that, we have an entire world at our disposal of personalities, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. The Norton in question discusses how one can not talk about children’s literacy without discussing education, and this is often true. Our educational system determines much of the perception of how children learn, what will be taught them on a daily basis, and how they may end up perceiving the world around them, including books and the worlds therein. Our educational system is not doing this well. Neither is some of our publishing business world, either. In some areas of these massive organizations, reading is a skill to measure by word number, word length, basic reading comprehension, and so on. This requires experts who research children and draw up generalities that can then be pressed onto the individual child like a cookie dough cutter. The same happens to many books: they require set lists of vocabulary words be used rather than creative story telling of a rich and natural sort. Storytelling as a formula, only more processed, like Velveeta world building. You may even be able to microwave it. Creativity tends to be the first casualty in this model, and then children are the next. If I look back at the quote from the petition of those British authors, I see words like ‘empathy’, ‘imagination’, and ‘creativity’. These are far too human to fit in a processing plant of human conditioning. When stories are no more than training for a person to follow instructions, then we have lost access to essential aspects of being human. This is not done by accident. No expert who recognizes these things will say, “Oh, I wasn’t aware that every society that has done this in history did it to the detriment of the humans involved”. Or “They must have oppressed the human spirit by mistake”.

Unless we have no spirit. Would that make it ok to lose our heart?

I kept out of our house those books that tended to instruct children on how to prepare to follow instructions. It was a weird pattern I became aware of as I accepted books from friends, joined book clubs, or went to the library. Some books didn’t just use simple words because they were written for very young children learning their words; they used simplistic vocabulary and stories to dampen down the questioning young mind. Questions are part of what drives the human mind. Books and education can stimulate that questioning, or repress it. Our current society does a lot of suppressing these days in language and thought. Well, it encourages harsh language of one kind while oppressing honest opinions or questions of another kind. I mean, while we have become anxiously aware of how we refer to various other people or we worry about offensively expressing our deepest beliefs, we have also become a coarser nation using the worst swear words in more commonly traveled social circles than ever. In books, definitely. And more often in children’s lit than ever before.

Perhaps the business model is part of the problem. Our cyber school was bought by Pearson, a textbook publishing group. Yes, our school is now run by the corporation that prints our textbooks. That’s like pharmacies buying hospitals. It isn’t wrong for a company to buy another company, but it may be wrong for a company to buy certain other companies. No system is perfect, of course, but some things just seem like a really bad idea. I’ve been watching the beginning of the effects following this acquisition, and there has been one surprise, so far, at least. The lit books have actually gotten better. I’m waiting to see how this plays out in 10th and 11th grades, which in the past had particularly horrendous literature for fresh young minds to digest. I’ve got my eye on you, Pearson.

So in my ramble I’ve mentioned coarse society, literature texts, and suspicion of government and business together. And libraries. I can hope, can’t I, that the libraries will continue to serve the general populace? Banned Books Week aside, libraries tend to be about truth, not just information. Even if as a school assignment one has to go mine information at the library, the truth remains there for us to stumble upon, in the stacks, online, in conversation, in personal thought, in a fairy tale. This Norton’s is over 2,400 pages long. It is nearly an entire library unto itself. Can’t wait to step in and strum my fingers through the pages, pausing at a picture here, reading a story there. It gives me lots to think about.